Is perceived racial privilege associated with health? Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Mar;68(5):840-4. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.12.007. Epub 2009 Jan 10.


While racial discrimination has gained increasing attention in public health research, little is known about perceived racial privilege and health. Using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data, this study explored the relationship of both perceived racial discrimination and privilege with well-being in the USA. Data were extracted from the BRFSS 2004 data set, in which 22,412 respondents in seven states and one major city provided data on perceived racial discrimination and privilege at work. Logistic regression analysis was conducted to examine the relationships of differential racial treatment to self-rated general health status and the number of physically and mentally unhealthy days. Racially stratified analyses found that perceived racial privilege was significantly associated with more days of poor physical and mental health. This relationship was consistent for Whites, but for racial minorities it appeared on only some outcome measures. Reports of being treated worse than other races in the workplace were associated with poor health for all racial groups, as had been reported in previous studies on racial discrimination. Because racial discrimination and racial privilege are both products of racism, this study's findings suggest that racism may harm all involved. Impacts of perceived racial privilege deserve more attention in the literature on racism and health.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Perception*
  • Sociology, Medical
  • United States
  • White People / psychology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Workplace / psychology
  • Workplace / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult